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When The NFL's Free Agency Begins, So Too Does Your Journey To A Fantasy Football Championship

Updated on May 1, 2013
Ex-Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger
Ex-Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger

For the truly die hard fantasy football fans out there, "off-season" is a meaningless word. But even if you do not label yourself one of these rare breeds, it does not mean you cannot get a leg up on your competition, and your jump start should take place at the start of the new NFL league year, which begins every March, on the first day of free agency. It is during this time that teams must get under a pre-determined salary cap, which results in most teams trimming the unwanted fat off of their respective rosters.

This is also the time when teams will hammer out trades, whether it is sending one of their own to another team, or they trade to bring in that stud player they decided they just could not live without. Dozens of players will be released, which are added to the already large free agent pool of players sitting without a team. Most NFL free agents are of the "unrestricted" category, which simply means their contract expired with their current team, and they are up for grabs for whichever club is willing to dish out the big bucks.

This is a vital period for the fantasy football fanatic. This is the time you sharpen your mental pencil and begin taking notes.

Let's begin by using the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. If you were paying attention on March 12th, 2013, the first day of free agency, you would have noticed more quality players departing than were staying. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, a.k.a. the quarterback who just received the largest contract in NFL history, is now sucking up so much of his team's yearly cap money, that they were not able to keep some of their game-changing studs.

A day before free agency hit, Baltimore's star wide receiver Anquan Boldin refused to take a pay cut. He was due to make a little over $6 million in the upcoming season. Due to a now lack of cash flow, the Ravens traded Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers for nothing more than a 6th round draft pick.

Future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis retired after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this past season for the second time in his career, leaving very large shoes to fill. His replacement, Dannell Ellerbe, moved on to "greener" pastures after signing a big deal with the Miami Dolphins.

Fellow linebacker Paul Kruger also found a new home with a division rival in the Cleveland Browns, leaving another hole in the Ravens already suspect defense. With Lewis, Ellerbe, and Kruger all out the door, the Ravens' linebacking core just went from one of the best groups in the game, to a bunch of no-namers.

To make matters worse, there was also a rapidly spreading rumor that another future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed could be headed elsewhere, possibly the 49ers to re-united with his old pal Anquan Boldin.

So what do we learn from all of this? The answer is simple. Last season, one of the biggest fantasy studs at the running back position was Ray Rice. The Ravens would pile up enough points in the early stages of games, resulting in more late carries for their running backs as they tried to wind the game clock down. Their defense was not the phenomenal defense from years past, but it was still good enough to hold late leads without too many problems.

This also made it difficult to have one of their wide receivers on your fantasy roster. Both Anquan Boldin, their true possession receiver, and Torrey Smith, their "spread the field" speedster, could never be trusted to insert into your lineup on any sort of consistent basis. Boldin may give you three catches for forty yards and no touchdowns one game, then come back the next week with nine catches for one hundred fifty yards and two touchdowns. This is the sort of inconsistency that drives fantasy footballers crazy!

But now we see things changing with the Baltimore Ravens. This team just lost three defensive stars, and possibly a fourth if Ed Reed does indeed depart. This is now a team who will go from playing in the second half of games sitting on leads and running the ball, to a team who will most likely find themselves losing a good portion of their games in the second half, and forced to throw the ball.

In your mental note-taking, this is where you start bumping running back Ray Rice down your list. He has produced at a high level for the last few years, but this year will be different. And for those fans who watched rookie running back and fellow teammate Bernard Pierce vulture carries as the 2012 season came to a close, you would realize the Ravens will continue to give him more carries to limit the wear and tear of their star back Ray Rice.

The flip side is with Anquan Boldin no longer sporting the purple and black uniform, Torrey Smith now becomes the only true go-to receiver left on the team, and his production will skyrocket. Joe Flacco may not win the NFL league MVP this year, but with the number of passes he'll have to toss this year in attempting to come back in games, he very well might end up your fantasy team's MVP as a later-round sleeper pick at the quarterback position.

The Ravens are just one example of what you should be looking for in the days leading up to your fantasy football draft. Watching the multiple NFL players finding new homes on a weekly, or hopefully daily basis, will give you a better idea as the next few months pass as to who still has value, who's value has dropped, and who just gained value they never even had in the past.

But if it comes time to sit down on draft night, and you draft Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receiver Mike Wallace, hoping he'll have a monster bounce-back season with All-Star Ben Roethlisberger throwing him the ball, you should know the chuckles you hear in the room from your buddies will be a representation of their knowledge that Mike Wallace signed a $60 million deal with the lackluster Miami Dolphins on, yes, March 12th, the start of the NFL free agency.

Copyright March 12, 2013 by Scott Barr

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